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What are areas A, B, and C of the occupied West Bank?

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The occupied West Bank was divided into three areas – A, B and C – as part of the Oslo Accords, signed by the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) and Israel in 1993 and 1995.

The agreements led to the establishment of an interim Palestinian government – the Palestinian Authority (PA), which was granted limited powers of governance in Areas A and B.

They were also meant to kick-start future peace talks brokered by the United States, with a two-state solution as the desired objective of negotiations.

But the outcomes of the Oslo Accords have instead left Israel in complete control of the Palestinian economy, civil and security matters in more than 60 percent of the West Bank, designated as Area C.

Despite granting the interim government control in overseeing administrative and internal security matters in parts of the West Bank, Israel maintains full military control over the entire area.

Efforts to strike a comprehensive peace deal over the years have proven fruitless, leaving the Palestinians with the provisional self-governing authority that has been unable to prevent Israeli occupation from expanding.

Annexation pledge

Israel has used the deal to justify the further expansion of settlements in the territories it occupied in 1967, including parts of East Jerusalem, which it annexed shortly after the six-day-war.

The UN and international rights groups have condemned the settlement expansion project, declaring settlements illegal under international law.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has pledged to annex parts of area C – the Jordan Valley and the northern Dead Sea region. In doing so, he is seeking to apply Israeli sovereignty to the region where some 65,000 Palestinians and about 11,000 Israeli settlers live.

The region is considered the most fertile in the West Bank, and has proven lucrative for Israeli companies that have long been exploiting the area’s land and resources.

Annexing settlements – and surrounding Palestinian villages – would likely spell the end of any lingering hopes of establishing a Palestinian state alongside Israel.

To understand what a formal annexation would mean, here is a breakdown of the three areas that makeup the West Bank:

Areas A, B and C 

Today, area A constitutes 18 percent of the West Bank, where the PA is in control most affairs, including internal security.

In Area B, which comprises about 21 percent of the West Bank, the PA controls education, health and the economy.

In both areas, Israeli authorities have full external security control.

This means that Israeli soldiers retain the right to enter these areas at any time, typically to raid homes or detain individuals under the pretext of security.

About 2.8 million Palestinians are crammed in areas A and B, where major Palestinian cities and towns include Hebron, Ramallah, Bethlehem, and Nablus.

Meanwhile, Area C represents the largest section of the West Bank, comprising about 60 percent of the Palestinian territory.

It also includes the vast majority of the 131 Jewish settlements in the West Bank, which house more than 400,000 settlers.

Although control of this area was meant to be transferred to the PA in 1999 as per the Oslo Accords, the handover did not materialise, leaving security, planning, and construction matters in the hands of Israel.

Blocking Palestinian development

B’Tselem, an Israeli human rights group, says Israel has restricted Palestinians from building, or even entering much of the land there.

Israeli authorities have banned Palestinians from constructing homes in the area and regularly deny them building permits.

Palestinians who attempt to build structures in the area are subject to home demolition orders, resulting in the displacement and disruption of livelihoods, the UN has said.

In addition to facing severe restrictions on planning and construction, they are also unable to access basic resources such as water.

The objective is to push Palestinians out of the area that has been utilised to serve Israeli needs.

According to B’Tselem, the forcible transfer of Palestinians from occupied territory is considered a war crime, whether executed in a direct or indirect manner.

Israel’s blocking of Palestinian development in the area is also carried out by “designating large swathes of land as state land, survey land, firing zones, nature reserves and national parks,” the rights group says.

Israeli settlements are meanwhile allocated large swathes of land and are connected to advanced infrastructure, such as bypass roads.

Settlements in occupied East Jerusalem and the West Bank are connected to each other and to Israel through these Jewish-only roads and highways that circumvent Palestinian areas.

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